PNG Meth ‘Black Flight’ Suspect Paid Account in Name of Migration Chief: Court Files

Photo: Australian Federal Police

A China-born businesswoman accused of taking part in an audacious plot to fly a light plane packed with drugs from Papua New Guinea to Australia allegedly ordered a co-conspirator to pay into a bank account in the name of PNG’s former migration chief in order to obtain a visa, court filings show.

Mei Lin, 41, was arrested and charged in Brisbane, Australia, in January for allegedly playing a key role in facilitating a “black flight” in March 2023 that carried over 71 kg of methamphetamine from a remote PNG airstrip to the Australian town of Monto. Lin, a naturalized PNG citizen, has denied the charges.

According to a statement of facts submitted by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to a Brisbane court last week, Lin allegedly instructed one of her co-accused, Australia-based businessman Chun Li, to pay A$10,000 (US$ 6,546) to a Sydney bank account last February in order for Li to obtain a visa in order to travel to PNG and take part in the drug trafficking scheme. The money was allegedly transferred in mid-February last year.

The account at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia is simply listed in the police document as belonging to a “Stanis”. However, by using the bank’s online payment system, reporters were able to confirm that the branch and account numbers in the police document matched the full name of Stanis Hulahau, PNG’s then-chief migration officer.

Hulahau has not been charged with any crime.

“[I] am not aware of the transaction and will have to check with my Bank in Australia,” Hulahau wrote in response to questions from OCCRP partner Inside PNG, adding that “the visa was granted electronically so there is no way I will be involved in this process.”

“I have no link to Mei Lin on the drug issue and [have] not assisted Mr Chun Li’s visa or travel to PNG to participate in drug activity as I am a leader who leads the fight against drug[s] in PNG,” he said.

Hulahau resigned as migration chief earlier this month after reporting by OCCRP, Inside PNG, and the ABC revealed that companies tied to Lin had received Australian government money under a controversial program to care for refugees and asylum seekers in PNG. Known as the PNG Humanitarian Program (PHP), the PNG government-administered arrangement is now under investigation over allegations that contracts had been improperly doled out and money had gone missing.

An OCCRP-Inside PNG investigation last month revealed how Lin had built a web of business ties with some of PNG’s most influential people. They include Moses Maladina, a former deputy prime minister who owns a company, Chatswood PNG, where Lin was previously employed and which has been a key contractor in the migration scheme. Maladina has denied any wrongdoing.

Lin was granted bail last week and is in Brisbane awaiting trial.

The latest police filing also contains new details alleging that last year’s black flight, if successful, was likely intended to be the first of many bringing drugs to Australia.

Police allege that Lin used a specialized encrypted communications device, under the handle “Make it Rain”, to coordinate the drug flight with members of an Australia-based syndicate that included local pilots.

The flight was intercepted in Monto on March 21 after the group had made previous unsuccessful attempts to fly to Australia, the AFP statement said. Police allege that the group intended the black flight to be the first in an “ongoing commercial business of importing methamphetamine from PNG to Australia”.

Police also stated that a forensic comparison showed similarities between the meth found on the black flight and an earlier stash of 125 kg of meth seized in PNG in November 2022. Two Malaysians and two PNG nationals were reportedly charged over that previous haul.

Eight people have been charged so far over the black flight in Australia, while six others, including Chun Li, have been charged in PNG.

The case comes amid fears that PNG could become an increasingly important staging point in the lucrative trade bringing drugs to Australia, one of the world’s most expensive narcotics markets. The Pacific Island country suffers from endemic corruption, poverty and violence, and experts say organized criminals are seeking to build influence with local elites.